Whenever I Close My Eyes, I Still Can See Your Smile

You never forgot my birthday. I will never forget yours. (I still remember you getting diners at Cinelli’s to sing me Happy Birthday.)

It’s been a little over 25 years since you have been gone. The pain in my heart from your death is not as severe but there are always reminders of what I miss. Christmas has never been the same. I remember your unbridled joy for the holidays. You loved the lights, decorating the tree and playing all the Christmas songs (starting with Thanksgiving dinner.)  We loved counting all the presents under the family tree on Christmas Eve. However you always held one gift back for everyone—-the one that you knew would bring the most surprise and the most joy.

Even though I was four years older, you were the wiser. Yeah, I had the better grades in school  but you were so good and so loved by so many people. You loved life. You took chances. You traveled. You risked your heart. You always smiled. You had so many friends! You were an inspiration to me.

You and I did have some battles. We both knew how to needle one another and sometimes we would have huge verbal wars. But we always had each others back and woe to those who would say something bad about one of us if the other was present.

At my wedding, you happened to get lost finding the park where we were going to take pictures. The wedding photographer wanted to take pictures without you there and I refused to take any pictures till you showed up. It did not make my new wife, Chris happy. However, you did show up, a bit late and had started to party before the rest of us did. 

At your funeral service, one of your neighbors mentioned to me how you told them that there was no one else you trusted more than me. I told your neighbor that no one’s opinion or judgment meant more to me. We both leaned on each other for support and that support and love are what I missed so much the past 25 years.

You were my kid sister that I had to protect. I remember you calling me in my early 20s. You were working alone at a Dunkin Donuts, frightened from being harassed by some guys. I hung up the phone and sped to your job wielding a baseball bat and rushing through the store door like a scowling Buford Pusser. Fortunately for them (and me) they had left but you knew I would did my best to always protect you.

However I could not protect you when the nurses told me that you had died during your surgery to have a tumor removed from your brain. It was not an easy surgery. You had noticed my concern prior to your surgery and were even amused that you heard that I, a committed agnostic, had gone to mass. I would have made a deal with the devil if it would have kept you alive. You passed away 10 days after Christmas and a month before your 39th birthday.

535604_858351634588_1624071314_n

Eulogy to my Mom (July 2018)

I thank Father Bill for giving me this opportunity to speak briefly about my mother. On behalf of Monica and I, thank all of you for coming to our mom’s service to celebrate her memory. Monica and I would also like to thank many of you here for your support and encouragement during my mom’s illness. In times like these, we deeply appreciate our family and friends.

Additionally I personally would like to thank three people. First, my wife Chris… she handled two huge projects related to my mother’s illness, first, the sale of her house and second, dealing with my anxieties and issues regarding my mother’s care.

Second, I’d like to thank my mom’s best friend and neighbor for over 55 years, Mrs. Dot Carter. Mrs. Carter and I shared a lot of travels between Pennsauken and Linwood to see my mom the past few years. Many of these trips were regrettably unproductive and heartbreaking but despite the discouragement, Mrs. Carter insisted on accompanying me on most trips as she felt that it was important that my mom knew she was there. My mom had no better friend. And I thank Mrs. Carter for her conversation during those long drives and in relaying stories about my mom.

Last, I want to thank Monica. If any of you have talked to me in the past two years, you know how proud and grateful I am for her. Monica exhibited extraordinary patience and compassion and that was just dealing with me. Monica’s care and consideration for my mom was extraordinary and I will share a story with you at the end to demonstrate that.

Now some thoughts about my mom:

My mom would hate what I’m about to do. She would be very uncomfortable with any type of eulogy or recognition. She was shy, introverted and hated any type of spotlight. She was very uncomfortable being around strangers – – she did not like to mingle. If you had attended my wedding or those of my sisters you would have found her firmly seated in her chair.

She lived a long but not an unchallenged life. The first forty years of more she spent with her mother and those in my family in attendance, who knew my grandmother knew that could not have been easy. My mom was widowed twice, once as early as age 35 with two kids, me at seven and Sandra at age 3. At that time, she did not drive. She had no real education – – I’m not sure that she finished middle school. She had limited skills to go out and find a job.

But a job she did find later in life. When Monica was old enough to be on her own, my mom went to work at the Pennsauken Mart. She worked at a snack bar with Mrs. Carter and she enjoyed her work and she actually began to socialize more, especially with the customers. Her boss, Joe is here and I’m very pleased to tell Joe how much she enjoyed working for you as her boss.

Father Bill would be pleased to know that my mom was a very good Catholic. She faithfully attended mass each week and prayed a rosary daily. Given her suffering the past two years, I would expect that if she had any sins, she has accounted and made penance for them.

She was an avid reader – – reading up to six books a month. ( I did inherit my mother’s interest in reading.) Her tastes ran to fiction and she had no interest in politics (though she was wise enough to consult with me before she voted). She enjoyed music and my understanding is that she was quite a dancer in her younger years. ( I did not inherit my mom’s talent for dancing)

Mom was old school. She never used a computer or owned an iphone. Her favorite places to eat were not at fancy restaurants but more personal places called Sandra’s, Chris’s and Sean’s. My mom’s personal Yelp ratings for those cooks exceeded five stars.

She stayed active in her later years. Till her 70’s she walked around Cooper River. In her 80s, she walked 3-4 circuits around the Moorestown Mall a few times per week. My mom’s body did not wear out – – it was her mind that failed her.

My mom had two great passions. The first is her love of fashion. If you look at the collage, you can’t help notice that my mom was very stylish. I told you earlier that my mom did not like to be the center of attention – – but that didn’t pertain to people complimenting her on how she looked. My mom was as meticulous as Melania Trump in how she looked in public. Fashion, not conversation, was how my mom communicated her personality and mood.

The greatest passion my mom had and the most important was her love for her children. She loved us equally but treated us differently. My mom once told me “don’t take this personally Eric, but a mom’s relationship with her daughters is special.” She had expressed to Mrs. Carter and later to me that she wished that she had been more affectionate with us but Sandra, Monica and I never doubted her love.

So I knew I was third in the pecking order but I did not mind. Both Sandra and Monica were very special – – though very different. Sandra’s death in 1995 was devastating to my mom. My mom lived vicariously through Sandra and envied her career and personality. Sandra took my mom on various vacations, trips, shopping and dining excursions and opened new experiences and worlds for her. My mom never fully recovered from Sandra’s death.

As for me, her biggest fear especially after Sandra died, was that I would die prematurely. Since my father died at 35 from a sudden heart attack, my mom would become very agitated when it snowed. She did not want me to shovel my sidewalks fearing I would have a cardiac arrest. My mom intimated on several occasions that Chris should shovel the snow possibly suggesting that Chris was more expendable than I was.

Monica was my mom’s favorite child (or so my mom told me one day). My mom fretted that she did not see Monica enough. However when my mother’s mental condition worsened, she did not want Monica burdened with her care. However it was Monica’s decision to move my mother to a long term care center by her so she could take care of her.

On my mom’s last day, Monica was by her bedside at 7:00 a.m. Monica suspected from her last few visits in observing my mom’s labored breathing that the end was near. Realizing that the last sense to go before one dies is their hearing, Monica gently spoke to my mom and noting that it was July 4th , wondered if Sandra was organizing a barbecue in heaven. Monica did not want my mom to die alone and she didn’t. What I find personally comforting about my mom’s death is that my mom knew Monica was there at her last breath and that last voice she heard was Monica’s. And my fervent hope is that when my mom moved from death to eternal life that she heard a voice she so surely missed, Sandra’s.

I love you Mom. I will continue to keep my promise to you!